By Blake Ells
Sarah Ashlee Barker has been a force to be reckoned with her entire career at Spain Park. This year, she averaged 20.2 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game as she led the Jaguars to the regional finals before falling to Hewitt-Trussville. She has already committed to play college basketball at Georgia.
She’s still just a junior, and she’s this year’s Over the Mountain Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
While her team was unable to repeat as state champions, there were encouraging moments that Barker believes the Jags can build on when the squad return for the 2019-20 season.
“We did good with our three-point shooting this year, but we weren’t as consistent as we could be,” she said. “We’d be 34 percent from the three-point line; then we’d go and be, like, 15. And you just can’t do that when you’re a three-point team. We struggled with our post game, and we’re going to work on that next year.”
There was some youth on this squad, but Barker is confident that this year’s experiences will help them as they aim to return to state.
“We had some young guys,” she said. “We had three really experienced players, but next year, we’re going to have the players that (were) inexperienced last year becoming experienced players. I think that will help us in the future.”
Barker points to Avery Madson as a teammate she believes will return and become a bigger scoring threat. She also believes that Camille Chase gained a lot of confidence down the stretch and will be able to make big contributions as a sophomore.
“She’s been in the gym with me and I’ve been making her go hard,” Barker said. “Just knowing that you’re the top three players in the gym right now, trying to make each other better, and we have until October to do it; you’re going to see a huge jump from (this) year to next year in those two players’ games just because of the work that we’ll be putting in during the offseason.”
Spain Park and this year’s state champions, Hoover, have built impressive girls basketball dynasties in recent years. As the Jaguars look to rebound and reclaim their throne, there will be no shortage of motivation for their leader.
“I look back and I want to figure out everything that I can do better as a leader,” she said. “Knowing that we were one of the best teams in the state; knowing that we beat (Hewitt-Trussville) four times and then we can’t get it done the fifth time? You have to take a look back at that, and realizing that you can’t win them all makes me want to push our team harder and harder. I’m not just here to make myself better; I’m here to make our whole team better.”
She’ll also strive to make this season’s graduating seniors, Ahrielle Parks and Bailey Bowers, proud.
“Knowing that we sent them home with a loss that we could have won and didn’t, that sticks with me,” she said. “Every single senior that’s in front of me, I want to play for them and win the games. Knowing that I couldn’t get it done makes me mad. I hope that makes me a better person and a better leader and a better player.”
With Barker returning for one more season, the Jaguars have a solid foundation as they try to reclaim the state title.